Clinical Research provides a great environment for scientists to test their research hypotheses on a specific target group, patients !

Aparamita Pandey, our next pathbreaker, Molecular biologist, researches problems posed by diabetes, in a clinical setting (Hospital).

Aparamita talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the opportunity to test new discoveries on human samples that led me her to take up the path of a Clinical Research Scientist.

For students, clinical research offers the best of both worlds by bridging the gap between research and its application in the real world, making healthcare more efficient and effective.

Aparamita, tell us about your background?

I am from the city Varanasi in the U.P. state of India. I did my schooling in the state board via Hindi medium till my 12th standard. I was sincere in studies (to be honest because it pleased my parents). I loved dancing and painting and always found some time to unleash my talents by participating in annual programs. I would like to highlight that it is equally important to have an artistic side of yours and cultivate it along with academic education. This will give you self-confidence.

My father was a farmer’s son and a self-made man. He taught tuitions and paid his way through higher education. He is a successful lawyer in Varanasi court. My mother is a housewife and has always been very keen on studies. She was very studious in her times and has done her B. A., B. Ed. She always taught us to be independent economically and in terms of household work. She not only ensured that we were good in studies but also taught me all the household work for training sake. So I ended up learning everything, but spent less time in household chores and much more in books. This made me independent enough to live far away from home but still able to take care of myself whenever required. 

All these experiences made me educated, confident, and independent.  

What did you do for graduation/post graduation? 

I did my B.Sc in Zoology (Hons.), Masters in Human Genetics from Banaras Hindu University and PhD in Molecular Biology from IISc Bangalore.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

My mother was a key influencer at home. I also looked upto many of my teachers and colleagues. Several symposiums and meetings with scientists led me towards a career in research.

I had to face stiff resistance during several phases of my life.When I took the decision of taking up the science stream in my school many thought it was not for girls. Deciding to move out of home to do my PhD from Indian institute of Science, Bangalore (because elders were too worried for my well being) was also tough. In recent times, joining BHU and then IISc were milestones in my career and personal life.  

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I was exposed to science experiments throughout my higher education and training. I was fortunate to have training from JNU and from BHU during my Masters. During my trainings, I was involved in project related to finding the genetic background linking to leprosy. I was also involved in a project where scholars were trying to undertstand role of protein molecules in organism development. Though small scale experiments are common for a researcher they were huge for me as a trainee. I loved how much you had to read and analyze before coming up with a logical plan, and then experimentally attempt to uncover new information in science to help humanity. This led me to take up the path of a researcher and I did my PhD in Biology. 

I was fortunate to have scholarships throughout my life, from graduation days itself. I recall there was a govt. aid provided to female scholars in my graduation days, which I could apply to, through the guidance of my University officals. It required certain marks in high school and intermediate to get the scholarship. Students should go and talk to to office personnel about it in case they need help. For my post-graduation I got scholarship from DBT (Dept of Biotechnology), India which was only provided to certain departments in Central Universities. For my PhD, I appplied for scholarships from DBT and CSIR. I got both but decided to use the scholarship from CSIR. These scholarships boosted my career. I did multiple projects in PhD. 

I found that a known herbicide was causing lots of problems in animals. We use live animals to study biology as you are aware that humans cannot be used many of the times. We found that the chemical was blocking important hormones in the body and causing unwanted inflammatory reactions in the body. In another project, we demonstrated for the first time that female ovaries have a protein molecule which seem to act on health and hence function of the ovarian parts. One of the projects was on energy metabolism in pregnant mothers. We showed for the first time that during lactation a hormone coming from mother’s bone helps the mother in keeping energy levels up while they are lactating and taking care of their kids. This needs a lot of energy! This project helped me get a job in Germany in a research team which was working on diabetes complications. I worked in the team from Heidelberg University and also worked with DKFZ, Germany, solving some questions in molecular biology. For example, we were testing the actions of a novel protein molecule on diabetic nephropathy. I researched the potential drug effect on the DNA structure of the kidney cells. I tested their physiology. I found that drug was affecting the diabetic patient’s kidney in a positive manner and improving its function.  

After completing my role in that project, I moved to the USA and currently work in a diabetes research team of a prestigious hospital in California. I have been keeping cordial relationships with my mentors as I respect them and am thankful for their role in my career. I worked in a group and collaborative environment. Meeting people and attending more symposiums is very helpful to grow in your career. It helps make collaborations and/or learn better. 

How did you get your first break? 

After achieving my PhD degree, I applied for jobs in the USA and Europe for further exposure in my field. I was interviewed from both places and had offers of jobs from both places. I accepted the one from Europe.

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: To understand your skills and look for suitable jobs 

Challenge 2: To apply for jobs keeping your profile in adherence to the job requirement. 

Challenge 3: To face interviews. I was well trained for this from my Master’s days due to their curriculum structure. 

Where do you work now? What is your research about?

I work in City of Hope hospital in the USA. I work on understanding the problems posed by diabetes. I need to have scientific aptitude which I gained during my training in PhD and jobs in Germany.  

My day usually starts from 9 am and goes on till 7-8 pm working in my lab. I do experiments and analyze data, comparing them with existing data. I also make reports on academic data obtained by us or analyze observations from other scientific groups and present or discuss them with different audiences. I work in the research team who are involved with understanding cause of failure of function of Beta cells in pancreatic islets. As you may know pancreatic islets are involved in taking care of glucose regulation in the body. If it fails we call the condition diabetes! Working in the hospital gives an advantage of testing our discovery on human samples and understanding the workings of human pancreatic islets rather than doing just animal experiments. The hospital also takes care of islet transplantation and related research to improve the technique. This is how research in a clinical setup gives an edge over pure scientific research.  

What is it you love about this job? 

I love the everyday challenges. Understanding science and generating new information comes from a mix of many skills. It is about a lot of sincerity towards knowledge and human relationships which makes it very appealing to me. 

How does your work benefit society? 

Working towards curing diseases or disorders present in humans improves life expectancy and lifestyle. Isn’t that what we all want? At the end, education and technology are to make this world a better and feasible place to live.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you! 

All the projects I did are very close to me. I get highly involved with my project or else I can not perform. I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

At a young age, we must learn as much as possible, as in adult life it is time to use what we learnt. Learn to understand life. Learn to be independent. Learn to be able to help others!

Future Plans?

I will be in science. I love helping humanity with my training so far. I enjoy research. I like to interact with people. I would like to be part of organizations where I get to do science and do public speaking related to it.